The Fourth Year

Disengagement filled the national agenda with real content. Now it is being replaced by empty slogans, purely self-serving political activity.

No vacuum was created in the political arena following disengagement, as might have been expected. Rather, familiar political foment has taken the place of the intense government activity that moved the wheels of evacuation forward: discussion of the expansion of the coalition. The heads of parties are meeting, creating headlines, considering proposals, formulating responses and making the country look as feverish as if it were on the verge of an important decision. The person in the street might ask - what is all the fuss about?

Ostensibly, the latest political moves by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might be understood: He did win the vote in the Likud Central Committee and the approval of his policies. He is now working to ensure his ability to remain in power. Accordingly, he is not putting his faith in statements by his adversaries, MKs Uzi Landau and Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin, who say they respect the majority rule and will support the cabinet in Knesset votes (as long as they do not involve further evacuations). He wants to protect himself from surprises and ambushes. Hence, he is looking at the possibility of expanding his power base. He is holding talks with the leaders of Shinui, Shas and other parties.

But why does Sharon want to fortify his cabinet? What goals does he want to achieve in his fourth year in office, in the name of which he has created the political foment of the past two weeks?

So far, Sharon has not proposed a plan to the public, the Likud or the parties with whose leaders he is negotiating. We do not know if, in the coming year, he intends to focus on moving the peace process ahead with the Palestinians, or on socio-economic issues. Has he decided to put the war against political corruption at the top of his priorities, or perhaps the struggle against violence? Does he intend to promote the economic policies designed by Netanyahu, which he so impressively backed, or will he be advocating the opposite goal - closing social gaps by reviving the system of allowances and benefits? Perhaps he is looking at an arrangement with Syria?

The impression one gets when looking at this political activity is that Sharon has one goal - ensuring the continuation of his rule. And the person in the street might ask - is that enough?

The struggle to remain in government is the prime mover behind all politicians all the time anywhere in the world and in any type of regime. The resources and attention focused on this goal take up most of his or her energies. For this reason, experts always counsel heads of state to take advantage of their first year in office to implement the changes for which they ran for office. They are subsequently bogged down in day-to-day management and the exhausting struggle for survival, among other things to increase their chances (or those of their party) of being reelected.

Surprisingly, Sharon made his greatest changes during his third year in office. The question is, what does he intend to do in his fourth year? The country has the right to an answer. It may expect that its leadership will not make do with survival for the sake of survival, but rather will work for the greater good.

This demand is not directed only at Sharon. The heads of the Labor Party, who hastened to announce that they intend to remain in the cabinet, must also give an accounting: What for? What goals are they presenting for the coming year? The slogan they have coined, "Instead of eradicating ourselves from the cabinet, we want to eradicate poverty from the country," rings as false as it is. Labor has been a partner, at least in the last year, to the economic policy linked to Netanyahu. The Labor Party intends to assist the passing of a budget mainly prepared by Netanyahu. How, therefore, do they intend to extricate the country from the distress of want and social gaps?

Disengagement filled the national agenda with real content. Now that it has been attained, it is being replaced by empty slogans and political activity that is purely self-serving. The person in the street will no longer make do with that.